WILMINGTON – The Department of State Treasurer is celebrating NC ABLE Month in recognition of a program it oversees to aid the intellectually and developmentally disabled (I/DD) meet financial challenges, and State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, spread the good news in Wlimington on Friday, Aug. 13.
Treasurer Folwell was accompanied by The Arc of North Carolina officials at UNC-Wilmington to raise awareness of the NC ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Program. The NC ABLE Act was signed into law in 2015. It allows people living with disabilities and their families to contribute to tax-free savings accounts without exceeding income limits that would cut off benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income.
The treasurer chairs the NC ABLE Program Board of Trustees, which oversees more than $13 million in assets for nearly 1,500 account holders. The money can be used for qualified disability expenses such as housing, cell phones, adaptive equipment, transportation and virtually any other item that will help to provide a better life experience.
“The NC ABLE Program has a special connection to New Hanover County. Ben Wright, who co-founded the national Bitty and Beau’s Coffee chain with his wife Amy right here in Wilmington, was instrumental in creating NC ABLE, and we are grateful to him for the years of dedicated service he donated as a member of the Board of Trustees,” Treasurer Folwell said. Bitty and Beau’s, named for the Wrights’ daughter and son with Down Syndrome, employs people living with disabilities who have benefited from NC ABLE.
“North Carolina is in an employment crisis. Businesses are struggling to compete with supplemental federal unemployment benefits paid for with their own tax dollars. Add that to state unemployment benefits and it becomes more financially advantageous for some to stay at home instead of going back to work, disrupting the economy,” Treasurer Folwell said.
“The Arc of NC has a ready and willing labor pool that employers would do well to tap into to fill their worker shortages,” Treasurer Folwell said. “NC ABLE provides further means for those workers to experience the joy of achievement and upward mobility that every North Carolinian deserves.”
Alphonso Williams is one such example. The 30-year-old has been employed by Aramark at UNCW for over 10 years, starting out as a dining room attendant and then promoted to Beverage Station Manager, a position of which he is extremely proud.
“Alphonso often is pulled into special projects throughout the year and his employer raves about the work he does. Alphonso works hard to manage his money as well as helping out his mom with expenses in their home. He is extremely IT savvy and can navigate the public transportation system in Wilmington easily,” said Melinda Plue, director of advocacy and chapter development at The Arc of North Carolina’s Raleigh-based headquarters.
“With the recent labor shortage, many employees like Alphonso are eligible for special bonuses for being such faithful, diligent employees,” Plue said. “This could create a problem for individuals who must stay within specific earning parameters to maintain eligibility for other critical services. Having the ability to save earned money in a way that protects assets is a lifeline for which families and individuals with disabilities are incredibly grateful for NC ABLE.”
“One of the best outcomes for a person with I/DD is a real job in his or her community, earning a paycheck, and connecting with non-disabled co-workers and supervisors in a way that is natural and supportive. One of the many services provided by The Arc of North Carolina is a robust Supported Employment program in the Wilmington area,” Plue said. Fourteen employers use the service. “For employers, the disability of the candidate is a secondary factor to the skills, talent, and personality this person can provide as a team member.”
The nonprofit Arc of NC, founded in 1953, provides services people need to gain or retain independence. It has a presence in 98 of 100 counties with a network of 20 smaller local chapters that provide their own services and/or social opportunities. Wilmington is one of five regional offices.